Symptoms of Asthma
Did you know that as many as one in three adults who currently have an asthma diagnosis may be misdiagnosed?
You read that right, folks!
A recent Canadian study, performed on 613 adults who had been diagnosed with asthma within the past five years, did pulmonary function tests. The participants who took asthma medications were weaned off their medications over the course of four clinic visits to see how they performed without medications.
After four visits, 203 people were found not to have asthma, meaning that a prior clinician had misdiagnosed them.
So, why were they diagnosed with asthma in the first place?
One of the researchers, Dr. Shawn Aaron, of the University of Ottawa and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, notes that asthma can be very difficult to diagnose because while there is a specific set of symptoms, not every patient has every sign. Also, several conditions can mimic asthma, and that have similar treatment plans.
We will first discuss conditions that mimic asthma, and then we’ll explain asthma symptoms in great detail.
Other Conditions that Mimic Asthma
It is important to have an understanding of what types of conditions may mimic asthma. Why? Because even clinicians, with years of medical training, can make a mistake when it comes to proper diagnosis.
These conditions all have a symptom (or several) that mimics asthma:
- Sinusitis – an inflammation of the sinuses, you may also hear this called a “sinus infection.” It is not uncommon, however, for sinusitis to occur in conjunction with asthma.
- Myocardial ischemia – inadequate blood flow to the heart, and an emergency situation. The symptom that mimics asthma is typically shortness of breath, but likely you’d also be having chest pain, which would hopefully alert your physician (and you!) to emergency treatment.
- Upper airflow obstruction – when the upper airways are obstructed, such as by a tumor or an enlarged thyroid gland.
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – a virus that causes wheezing and pneumonia in young children and babies, which actually can lead to asthma later in life.
- Bronchiectasis – a lung disease that is caused by repeated infections of the lung, and causes injury to the walls of the airways of the lungs.
What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?
The symptoms of asthma occur because there is an inflammation that occurs in the bronchial tubes. This inflammation causes an increased production of mucus, which subsequently sets off a cascade of symptoms. The symptoms occur during asthma exacerbations, or when the lungs are inflamed and are filled with mucus.
Common symptoms that occur include the following:
- Coughing is one of the most common symptoms, and it often happens at night
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness, pressure, and/or pain
These symptoms may coincide together – or you may have only had one or two at a time. You may have an asthma exacerbation, and then with the next asthma exacerbation, the symptoms may be completely different. Your symptoms may be mild from one asthma exacerbation to the next.
You should also know the symptoms of an asthma attack:
- All of the symptoms mentioned above except wheezing, plus:
- Very rapid breathing
- Tightened neck and chest muscles
- Difficulty talking
- Feelings of anxiety and/or panic
- Pale and sweaty face coupled with blue fingernails and blue lips
An asthma attack can progress quickly and is an emergency situation. Without proper emergency treatment, you can die. Educate those close to you so that they understand the severity of this situation.
Prevention of Asthma Exacerbations
If you’ve been diagnosed with asthma and have been prescribed medications, that is part of the battle. However, you can also avoid triggers. This means that you can prevent certain things which are known to trigger an asthma exacerbation.
Below, you’ll find a list of items which are known to flare asthma exacerbations. Keep in mind that it is just that – a list. While these triggers are common, they are in no way comprehensive – you may have a trigger that is not included on this list, and you may not be bothered by the triggers on this list. This is simply an excellent place to start!
Common asthma triggers include:
- Having a cold or frequent colds – especially if you are coughing at night and are suffering from shortness of breath.
- Suffering from seasonal allergies (common symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, sore throat, and headache.)
- Exposure to certain environmental allergens, such as dust mites, cockroaches, pollens, and air pollution.
- Exposure to tobacco smoke.